One day before a hotly contested U.S. House election in California, Democrat Janice Hahn's campaign suffered a shock it didn't expect Monday: the death of the candidate's 86-year-old mother.
Locked in a combative contest with Republican Craig Huey, Hahn was planning to spend a hectic, final day of campaigning at her Torrance, Calif., headquarters. She abruptly suspended her schedule to join her grieving family.
Hahn and her brother, former Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn, said they were devastated by Ramona Hahn's death. "Continuing without her will be difficult," they said in a statement, which did not mention Tuesday's congressional election.
The unexpected death saddened campaign staffers, who were dealing with the delicate task of adjusting the candidate's election-day schedule around time she would need with her family. But they insisted the campaign's long-set plans to get voters to the polls Tuesday would not be deterred.
The death "took everyone by surprise," said campaign manager Dave Jacobson. "Janice was obviously part of all critical decisions we make on this campaign, but we have a plan in place and that's getting out the vote."
The stretch run of a campaign is usually a frantic effort to reach undecided voters and get them to turn out and vote, a task that involves droves of phone calls and home visits by volunteers. Hahn is the favorite in the Democratic-leaning 36th Congressional District, but the contest has been unexpectedly competitive.
Senior adviser John Shallman said in a statement, "We understand that Janice needs to be with her family but the campaign will move forward _ as her mother would have wanted."
Ramona Hahn "was looking forward to seeing her daughter sworn in as the next congresswoman of the 36th District. We will work very hard to make that dream a reality," Shallman said.
Huey issued a statement expressing his condolences. "Our prayers are with Janice and the entire Hahn family at this time," it read. "She was a matriarch of a family dedicated to Los Angeles. The passing of any person is worth a moment of prayer and reflection, whether or not it is tied to a campaign."
Staffers in both campaigns said the death was unlikely to have any political ramifications Tuesday. Nearly 40,000 mail-in ballots have been received, which could be as much as half the vote.
It recalled the death of President Barack Obama's grandmother shortly before the 2008 presidential election.
"I'm sure everybody's sympathies are with Janice Hahn, but that doesn't necessarily affect their evaluation of the candidate," said Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College.
"If it's an extremely close election, just about anything could turn out to be decisive. But it's not likely to shift a lot of votes," Pitney added.
Ramona Hahn was the wife of the late Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, a legendary figure in local politics who held office for decades.
Joe Trippi, Hahn's media consultant, said he doubted many voters will have heard about the death.
"The entire campaign staff feels for her loss, but everybody is determined to make sure the things we planned to get out the vote happen," Trippi said.
Despite a commanding 18-point registration edge for Democrats in the district, tallies of mail-in ballots suggest a potentially tight finish. Hahn remains the favorite, but the likelihood of a paltry turnout in a mid-summer special election means a small number of votes could swing the result.
In May, Democrats picked off a New York congressional seat in a heavily Republican district after capitalizing on fears over a Republican plan to roll back Medicare and Social Security benefits. That has made the GOP eager to turn the tables in California, a reliably Democratic state in national elections.
GOP activists say a Huey upset could be a signpost for U.S. national elections next year, but it may have little meaning for 2012 in California because legislative and congressional districts are being redrawn by an independent commission.